Palestinian Authority pulls staff from Gaza border crossing with Egypt

Fatah-led PA says it withdrew employees to protest against Hamas's 'brutal practices'

Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas (R) stand guard the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, on January 7, 2019. The Palestinian Authority said Sunday it was withdrawing staff from the Rafah border post with Egypt in the southern Gaza Strip to protest against "brutal practices" by rival faction Hamas. / AFP / SAID KHATIB
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The Palestinian Authority has withdrawn its staff from Gaza’s border crossing with Egypt as its relationship with the enclave’s Hamas rulers reached a new low.

The PA, led by President Mahmoud Abbas, said it was pulling back its workers in the territory in protest against the “brutal practices” of its ­rivals. The official Palestinian news agency Wafa reported the PA’s civil affairs authority describing Hamas forces as “de facto gangs”.

It also accused Hamas of “summoning, arresting and abusing our employees”.

The two factions have been at loggerheads since 2007 when Hamas seized Gaza after fighting off an attempted coup by members of Fatah.

But in recent years tensions increased as Mr Abbas cut salaries to PA workers in Gaza, increasing pressure on Hamas in the enclave that Israel has besieged for more than 10 years.

But the PA took control of the Rafah border crossing in November 2017 as part of a deal in which Egypt reopened a frontier that had been shut from August that year and frequently sealed for years before that.

“Since we took over the Rafah crossing, Hamas has been obstructing the work of our crew there,” the PA said.


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It said Egypt had made the reopening of Rafah – the only land crossing from Gaza to non-Palestinian territory apart from two border posts with Israel – conditional on the PA being in charge of it.

Hamas said the PA’s decision to withdraw “constitutes a new step by Mahmoud Abbas in separating the West Bank from the Gaza Strip”.

The PA is based in the city of Ramallah and governs only parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which is separated from Gaza by internationally recognised Israeli territory.

In late December, a Fatah spokesman accused Hamas of carrying out mass arrests of its members in Gaza. Hamas denied the allegation.

Mr Abbas’s party also accused Hamas of orchestrating a failed assassination attempt against Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah in March 2017.

Several attempts in recent years to end the animosity between Fatah and Hamas have failed.

Egypt sporadically opens the Rafah crossing to allow Gazans out of the enclave, particularly those who need medical attention.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi offered a rare ­acknowledgement of his close security co-operation with Israel in the Sinai Peninsula during a US television interview with the CBS 60 Minutes news programme broadcast on Sunday.

The programme reported that Cairo had asked the network not to broadcast the interview but did not give further details.

Under Mr El Sisi, Egypt has quietly worked with Israel on security in Egypt’s Sinai region, a desert peninsula demilitarised as part of a US-sponsored 1979 peace treaty between the two countries but where Cairo’s forces now operate freely.

Acknowledging such co-operation with the Israeli government can be a sensitive topic in Egypt.

Asked whether the co-operation was the closest that he has had with Israel, Mr El Sisi responded: “That is ­correct. The air force sometimes needs to cross to the Israeli side.

“And that’s why we have a wide range of co-­ordination with the Israelis,” Mr El Sisi said, according to a transcript provided by CBS.